Jenna Carlson

Globe Americas

“Fun is not the word”

Fun is not the word, Laura and I decided over 30 cent “couscous marocain” at the restaurant. We were thinking about our time abroad, how we will be heading home relatively shortly, and what it will be like to be back at home discussing our time abroad with others. If I could pick one word to describe my experience here, I stated, fun would not be it. No, Laura added laughing, fun definitely would not be the word to describe the year.

We were talking about what it would be like to regroup with friends and share experiences. It will be hard to relate, even with friends who studied abroad on other programs. Laura thought it would be hard to relate her experience to her many friends who spent the year studying abroad in Europe. Well, I know their experiences are very different from ours, I said, but it’s not like they didn’t have to go through culture shock too. True, she agreed, but I doubt they had travelers’ diarrhea. I thought it was possible. Still, she persisted, there’s no way they talked about their bowel movements as much as we did. OK, true, I said.

My concern is that people who spent their time abroad in Europe will come back to be like, Omigod! I had such a fun year! What about you? And we will be like…well, it was really hard. Laura jumped in: “I had to give bread to starving kids outside my cafeteria every day. Woohoo!” I chuckle. It’s true. I can’t compete with people who have had really “fun” years… but then again, that’s not why I came here. I didn’t come here expecting to have a really woohoo fun year. Not that there haven’t been many fun moments. There definitely have been really awesome times. But my goal in coming here was to learn… to learn so much… and I have definitely done that. That is what makes me experience a success. Kudos to you, Laura confirms.

No, seriously, Laura goes on, if I had to pick one word to describe this year, I think it would be ’humbling.’ I nod in agreement. Humbling. Either humbling, or, ’I learned a lot’, she says. Laura, I say, ’I learned a lot’ is not one word. OK, fine, so, humbling, she decides. It was a good word.

It has been really hard at times… adjusting to so many new things, being on an isolated college campus (not that I’m not used to it at UCSD), dealing with language difficulties, feeling guilty for having money in a place so poor, learning that I will always be white and female, being called ‘la gazelle’ or ‘la belle’ or worst of all, ‘la mignon’ every day just for being white, trying to make friends across cultural borders…

But there is so much I would not have gained if I had not come here. I learned to appreciate so much, for one, but I also learned how much I really don’t need or even want. My eyes have been opened to so much more, I am open to so much more, and I am more the person I want to be.

Jenna Carlsson
Senegal, 2005-06